- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- From the first day Andrea Bargnani set foot in the Knicks practice facility, coaches and teammates have been asking him to play with some aggression.
On Friday night, the message finally sank in.
"I guess he was just tired of hearing it," Carmelo Anthony said.
Whatever it was, Bargnani's big night couldn't have come at a better time for New York.
In a game Anthony referred to as a "must-win," Bargnani responded accordingly.
The seven-footer had with the best game of his young Knicks tenure, scoring 25 points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking five shots to help lift New York (2-3) to a 101-91 win.
"The coaches and my teammates are helping me a lot and they're trying to do their best to make the adjustment smooth," Bargnani said. "But I got to help them, play my game ... go out there and do what I've always done all these years."
Bargnani looked alarmingly hesitant in his first four games in New York. He entered play Friday averaging just eight shot attempts in 20 minutes.
Against Charlotte, he put up 25 shots in 35 minutes on the floor and scored more than 20 points for the first time in eight months.
"He can't tease me because I'm going to expect that from him every time he steps out on the floor," Mike Woodson said.
And that's one of the bigger issues the Knicks face with Tyson Chandler out: Can Bargnani give them enough at center while Chandler nurses his fractured fibula?
Will he be too much of a defensive liability? Or can he score enough to help the Knicks tread water until the center returns?
For one night, the answer to that final question was a resounding yes.
Bargnani got hot in the second quarter, hitting five of nine shots and grabbing three rebounds to help New York build a four-point half-time lead. Three of his attempts came from inside the paint, which is an anomaly for the 28-year-old.
He added seven more points and two blocks in the third quarter as the Knicks built a 19-point edge.
In between all the made shots, blocks and rebounds, point guard Raymond Felton pulled Bargnani aside to offer a few words of encouragement.
"That's what we need from you. We need you to be aggressive," Felton told Bargnani. "If you miss a shot, keep shooting. We feel like you can hit those shots."
Bargnani was one of the many reasons the Knicks started the year 1-3. He wasn't spacing the floor for Anthony and was an eyesore on defense. The Knicks allowed 20 fewer points per 100 possessions with Bargnani off the floor in their first four games.
Once Chandler went down on Tuesday, Woodson and his staff knew they'd need more from Bargnani to stay afloat.
So Woodson asked one of his assistants to talk to Bargnani before tipoff on Friday and implore him to be more assertive.
"Hell, he needs to speak up, he's got to talk more and act like he's a part of this," the coach said.
So Woodson had to be pleased when Bargnani pumped his fist and yelled following a made three in the third quarter.
"He had that shoot-first mentality, which I like," Anthony said after the game. "Sometimes he needs to take advantage of that a little bit more."
Actually, the Knicks need Bargnani to play with an aggressive mentality all of the time. If he can be assertive and effective during Chandler's absence, the Knicks have a chance to stay in contention. If not, it could get ugly quickly for Bargnani, and for the Knicks.
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5dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann